Teen Titans #16 review

Teen Titans #16 is a one-shot issue brought to you by the guest creative team of Marv Wolfman, Tom Derenick, Trevor Scott and Jim Charalampidis. This issue presents a one-shot narrative with the spotlight on Starfire, and supporting roles for Raven and Beast Boy. Although some prior knowledge about Starfire might enhance your reading, rest assured that this is by no means necessary because everything you need to know is explained in this issue. Now, I’m going to say this right at the start: even though Marv Wolfman—who co-created Starfire with George Perez—is here on writing duties, I do feel that the issue suffers from some characterization problems as well as some structural problems in terms of plot. Additionally, there are some confusing instances concerning the artwork as well. This, however, does not necessarily mean the issue is a waste of time, because I’m sure that some readers, Starfire fans in particular, can find something here to enjoy. So without further ado, let’s dive into the review proper.

This issue is rather straight-forward in structure and very plot driven. At the start of the issue there is conflict, which leads into some mystery as the main villains aren’t immediately revealed, and at the conclusion Starfire, with the help of her friends, is victorious. Essentially that is all you’ll get here, although there are some character moments sprinkled throughout. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this type of structure and sometimes the straight-forward approach is the way to go, especially when dealing with one-shots. However, in this particular issue I do feel that at times the narrative lacks that extra bit of substance to make it truly interesting. Without having too much prior knowledge about Starfire, I personally still find that the plot was rather predictable and in places somewhat questionable. I’ll set out my analysis as I cycle through the issue without delving too much into spoilers. If you have already bought the issue and have it with you as you read this, I invite you to read along with me.

On the opening page we are immediately presented with a battle sequence. Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy are facing off against Mammoth, who comes charging in using an actual city bus as a weapon. A.R.G.U.S. agents sit watching from behind cover, but are told to stand down because the Teen Titans are on it. In my opinion, so far so good. In a comic book universe where teenagers are capable of saving the world from evil master minds, I’m okay with suspending my disbelief that an organization such as A.R.G.U.S. is just letting the teenagers do their thing. Besides, these teenagers, of course, have amazing abilities and plenty of experience in dealing with villains. However, what strikes me as very odd is that, first of all, Beast Boy is flying around in the form of a buzzard but I don’t see how he could possibly do anything against Mammoth in that form. The reason I’m mentioning this is because a few panels later he suddenly has assumed the form of a gorilla, which is probably more suitable, but not once did we see him actually do anything in the battle. He was just kind of around, I guess. Now, of course this is an issue with the spotlight on Starfire, but if we’re going to have Beast Boy on the battlefield I would like to see him use his powers and go toe to toe with Mammoth. Just imagine Beast Boy turning into an actual mammoth. That could have made for some crazy visuals that, if executed well, would have stayed with readers for a good long while after closing the issue. With regards to the A.R.G.U.S. agents, I wonder if their inclusion is necessary, because they only appear in this opening scene and are not contributing in any way. They do not make a return later in the issue, either.

Furthermore, still on the battle, I find that, in terms of panel layouts, it is very disorientating and confusing as to how the battle is exactly progressing. Especially when we look at page 2, we first see Starfire blasting Mammoth while she’s flying close to a building. In the next panel, Mammoth is immediately attacking the A.R.G.U.S. agents and Starfire is flying in the air in the background, as if the first panel never even happened. In the third panel Starfire is blasting Mammoth again, and in the fourth we see essentially the same image as in the third, only from a different angle, and Mammoth is starting to slowly move up to Starfire while caught in her blast. Whereas we had some sense of location in the first panel on this page, that is completely lost in the next three panels. The backgrounds are vague or nonexistent, and the continuity in the fight does not flow smoothly from panel to panel. It looks like a montage of snapshots rather than an actual visualization of the battle itself. As a result the battle, as it stands now, does not look like a coherent scene, which I find distracting. Additionally, some of the panels have cybernetic looking frames around them, which—in conjunction with the ominously mysterious voices observing the battle—on the one hand do add to the sense that the Teen Titans are being watched, but on the other hand I feel like they draw too much attention from what is depicted in the panels themselves. Lastly, on the topic of the opening battle, I notice that, despite them clearly being in a city, it does not feel like they are in a city. It feels more like an empty arena, like a map in a fighting video game, as there are no people in the streets; all the cars are empty; the entire area is secure. Therefore, aside from damage to buildings, cars, objects, etc, I am not really feeling a sense of threat. Having some innocent bystanders in the background or panicking people at least would have created the sense that there was something at stake.

After the battle there is a strange exchange between Starfire, Beast Boy and Raven, which to me just reads very off and slightly unnatural. Beast Boy is whispering into Raven’s ear and Starfire sees this happening. She asks what’s up, but neither Beast Boy nor Raven is answering the question. In fact, Beast Boy is telling Starfire: “Oh, you know, just talkin’. Young people stuff. You wouldn’t be interested.” Starfire then flies off into the sky and begins to question what her team mates have against her, what their problem is with her. She even goes so far as to ask herself why they hate her, and hypothesizes that it’s because she was doing “old people stuff to them.” None of this really makes any sense to me. If Starfire had some internal self-critical issues within the context of this issue that she needs to work out, then that would have been fine and could contribute greatly to the narrative as it allows for character development. However, as it stands, I find that the flow of thoughts is almost too scripted. Perhaps, had the thoughts been more jumbled, or actually more smoothly flowing, it would have been slightly more natural sounding. That, as well as the usage of the term hate, which I think is too strong a word, distracted me from really enjoying this glimpse into the inner workings of her mind. That having said, I do appreciate Wolfman taking the time to put this into his script. A slightly smoother flow to the inner monologue and perhaps an even a deeper glimpse into her self-doubt, taking it a step further, might have made the scene much more powerful.

At the same time, in the background, lots of civilians are being possessed by strange nanobot technology. They begin to float up into the air and start shooting solar beams from their eyes at Starfire. Now, I like the way that the sequence is build up, with Starfire not noticing how, in the backgrounds of the panels, these people are creeping up on her. Yet I do have some questions here. So we are in the DC Universe, and there are many people with superpowers, some crazier than others. But these civilians are ordinary people without powers who, just because of nanotech, can all of the sudden cheat physics and shoot solar beams. I don’t think the human body is actually capable of these things even if it’s infused with nanotech. So, whereas I have no problem suspending disbelief when I see teenagers saving the world (after all, one is the daughter of Trigon, another is a boy that can transform into all beasts that have ever lived on the planet, and yet another is an alien from outer space), I think the narrative begins to wobble at this point. Of course the point is that Starfire doesn’t want to hurt innocent people but somehow still has to defend herself from them, but I’m wondering if there isn’t a better way to handle this rather than to have random folks suddenly fly around because, a second ago, a nanobot attached itself to their necks. Which brings me to my last point on this topic: Starfire blasts one guy from the sky and then immediately flies after him to catch him, and carries him off to hospital. But where are all the other people? She was fighting an army, but now suddenly she’s able to get away from them saving this one guy. I feel like the army should’ve immediately given chase.

Next, there is a scene in the hospital. The guy that Starfire saved turns into a cyborg of sorts, and it makes for a pretty nasty body horror image because more than half of his body is overtaken by alien technology. It makes me wonder how the man is even still alive anymore. During this sequence Starfire and the cyborg guy end up fighting each other and soon find themselves outside. At this point Starfire is going through the rules of Okaara, of which the first is: pay attention to the enemy. However, as she continues to run through the rules in her mind, I’m wondering how she’s able to pay attention to her enemy if she is having all of these thoughts at the same time. It seems slightly counterintuitive, and I wonder if the narrative really needs this. Then the army from before shows up and ultimately Starfire is captured and we get to see who is behind all of this.

While captured by the real bad guys, Starfire is locked in a machine and enormous amounts of solar energy are being pumped through her. While I think that the artwork in this case does an adequate job at conveying that Starfire is in pain, I do think the writing could have been stronger and more effective if Starfire wasn’t shown to think about the past and what the bad guys did to her back then, but if the captions actually reflected what Starfire is going through in the moment. It would allow for the reader to relate more to her suffering instead of having to imagine events from the past. At least what the narrative here does manage to do is drawing some parallels between past and present in that it’s both about torture and how Starfire, in the end, manages to overcome this and break free from it. It leads up to a very badass Starfire moment where she completely breaks from her bounds and starts fighting back against the bad guys.

Toward the end of the story Starfire has to fight against her team mates, Raven and Beast Boy. The physical battle can be interpreted to mirror Starfire’s internal doubt as she wonders why her team mates hate her—even though they don’t really; obviously this is just Starfire misunderstanding a situation. So too do the Teen Titans not actually want to fight her, but they are just being possessed by the nanobots. What strikes me as odd here, however, is that, after Starfire destroys the machine that powers the nanobots, both Raven and Beast Boy are instantly turned back to normal. All the robotic parts that had covered them before are vanished, and they don’t seem to be sick or wounded at all. Everything is resolved just like that, which seems a rather convenient resolution for the story to me. That having said, the story does conclude with the characters hugging it out and them being the same old friends again, which is a nice and positive note to end on.

As for the artwork, in this issue we have Tom Derenick on pencils. For the most part I think he is doing a good job at drawing characters in dynamic poses and showing emotion on characters’ faces, even though the faces sometimes look rather off and somewhat distorted, and sometimes the poses are too dramatic or sexualized for my tastes. Therefore the pencils aren’t very consistent throughout the issue. What definitely distracts me from the story is that the bodily proportions of characters are so exaggerated. Starfire has an incredibly small waist, for instance, but a larger torso and muscular arms, and it just doesn’t look quite right. As mentioned before, the city also looks very empty in the background and I never feel like we are actually inside a city. The nanotech/cybernetic elements to characters also seem too much to me, especially with Raven and Beast Boy. In Raven’s case, her soul-self ability appears to have the robotic aspect as well, which entirely confuses me because how can a soul have robotic parts? As for Beast Boy, he turns into a lion but essentially the only part of him that’s still organic is his head—his entire body has become robotic. Even though I can suspend my disbelief with regards to the Teen Titans’s superpowers and extraordinary capabilities, this is the point where it becomes too much of a stretch to me. A little less of the robot stuff at least would have made it easier to accept.

On the ink duties we have Trevor Scott, and honestly, I’m a fan of his work. The inks work wonderfully well to set apart the characters from the background and other objects, and add a much-needed sense of depth and a layer of consistency to an otherwise inconsistent layer of pencils. The shadows are never overwhelming either, which is fitting, seeing as this is essentially a Starfire book. And, in my opinion, a Starfire book should be bright and colorful.

Which brings me to the final layer of the artwork. Jim Charalampidis is providing the color work, and I think this is the best aspect of the book. The palette is incredibly colorful and varied, and the color work is perhaps the most consistent element of this issue. These colors pop and are vibrant, and rather easy on the eye. When I first gave this issue a look-over before properly reading it, the colors were the first things I noticed and I remember thinking to myself that this was a good-looking book based on the colors alone. (That was before I took a closer look at the pencils, of course.)

Recommended if…

  • Starfire is your favorite Teen Titans character!

  • You enjoy a one-shot every once in a while for a quick read

  • You have no trouble suspending your disbelief, even when things seem weirdly out of proportions

  • You’re on a mission to collect every single Rebirth Teen Titans comic

Overall: I don’t think it’s a bad comic. But at the same time I don’t think it’s a phenomenal read, either. In my opinion, this issue could easily be skipped and you would not really miss a thing, since the issue has some questionable choices regarding characterization, somewhat inconsistent artwork where bodily proportions are way off, and a number of plot holes that make the narrative very wobbly for me. As such, I would not recommend buying this issue unless you are a hardcore Starfire fan and have been looking to read a story where she takes center-stage, or you just don’t want to leave any holes in your Rebirth Teen Titans comics collection.

Score: 5/10